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  • Writer's pictureApril Gavin

Bandit had Blue Eyes

I used a very low-tech solution to bring alive an old photo of a beloved, long-departed pet. I'll show you what I did so that you can try this on your own.

Both my friends Michael and David sent me cat photos as I needed to do some gratuitous kitten drawing for One Medium Onion. Michael's beautiful girl Bandit was one of the pictures received. I remember her spirit more than what she actually looked like. She was large, bossy, extra beautiful and very aloof. She would allow me the briefest of touches and then no more.

Technology which is perennially not my friend came in handy for once. Here's how:

Michael sent me this photo of her - devil kitty eyeballs and all. My first task was to ask Michael what color her eyes actually were. My second task was to use the settings on my computer to turn the photo into black and white. This shows me where the darkest and lightest values are in the picture. It's hard to see these values in the color photo as the human eye is distracted by color. Using this method helps us to see better.

My third task was to use my computer monitor as a light box to trace this photo. I then made copious notes on the tracing paper to augment what I was seeing. Below, you'll see the tracing paper and almost finished piece on the easel. I choose very carefully what information to keep and what was extraneous. You'll see that I omitted the crumpled piece of paper and the duct tape. The goal wasn't an exact replica of the photo but to capture Bandit's spirit - the thing I remember most.

Even though the photo shows a hard shadow on the right, I decided to blur it. It didn't look right to my eyeballs so I let it go. Michael's birthday is tomorrow, but I won't tell you how old he is. This painting is a gift to him because he's a gift and being able to make art and share with friends is a gift.

Then, what followed was more gratuitous cat drawing.

The Tomato Challenges the Master is one of a cat named Brahma when he was a kitten. He belonged to my friend David. He's been gone for some years, but putting him in this setting dispatching an impertinent tomato was conducive to his spirit. Precision and replication aren't quite my thing. I go for the way something feels and what my imagination might find worthwhile to capture. My friend David has a thing for orange tabbies and recently adopted two new kittens.

Artists are inexplicable people. We'll hang out in a space all by ourselves all day trying to get the shadow under a warbler's butt just right.

Warbler and Plum came somewhat from my imagination. During the pandemic, I took an online art lesson from painter Beth Lowell. Her focus that evening was warblers. Beth is an amazing artist who mainly works in oil pastels. I recently asked her advice on managing greens in a painting. She had excellent advice and hopefully her advice shows. This particular warbler is a Blackburnian warbler and I used my sketch from that evening with Beth to give this one a setting and a song. The shadows I tried for felt like the natural shadows that would happen in this setting.

In Gateway to the Garden, I used more of Beth's advice on the greens and used an impressionistic background like I did in The Little Thief. The foxgloves are in bloom right now and I really enjoyed drawing this one. The brief thought occurred to me to combine this with The Little Thief for a children's book about life in the garden. Let me get the other two launched first. (I have the post production willies, but coming soon.)

The portrait of Bandit is 10"x14". The Tomato Challenges the Master is 6"x9". Warbler and Plum is 6"x6". Gateway to the Garden is 5"x7". Working this small and having a plan (sort of) allows me to try new things and test out skills. Bandit was done over the course of a weekend. The other three I worked on simultaneously. It allowed me to move around. My brain never set on one style. I did use similar colors in each one as that was what was on the palette.

I've been on a semi-sabbatical since June and am really enjoying it. It allows me to do this work and to have more than one experiment brewing in my studio at a time. I'm lucky to have been able to save money to take this time off. So many folks do not have the luxury to take enough time from work to focus on the necessities much less the things they love. Who knows how I'll work when this time comes to an end, but until then I'm doing what I love most as much as I can.

1 Comment

Christl Michele
Christl Michele
Jul 27, 2023

Congratulations on giving yourself a sabbatical and dining on a daily diet of food for your soul. It shows in your artwork!

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